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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A slither of ice crept down his spine. More disturbed than he liked to admit even to himself. He tried to shake it off, his voice gruff but aiming for casual. "Everybody uses everybody."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 560 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "ON THE ROAD TO HELL"
SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE
CHAPTER: 9. Sequel to "UNSEEN HANDS"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon
SUMMARY: "River has a solution to treat the Captain's
condition though everything comes at a cost. Zoe doesn't
trust Rufus and Shen Willets is beginning to wish he had
never volunteered to help."
"THE ROAD TO HELL"
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
"You need to stop starin' at me, *nu haizi*."
River didn't blink. "Just protecting Captain Daddy."
Rufus Pol felt a jolt go through him, oddly shaken. "You're Mal's daughter?"
"In a manner of speaking except when I'm not and even then I am."
He blinked, confusion holding his irritation at bay. Seeing the spark of intelligence in her eyes, his own narrowed slightly. "You ain't really *shenjingbing*, are you?"
"And you're not really as dumb as you look." She replied, leaning towards him with a smile on her face that was somehow mighty disconcerting.
He had been walking up the loading ramp into Serenity after checking things with his own men and making sure no one outside was taking any particular note of his grounded terraforming ship. It had been on Ithaca Moon so long now that it was practically a fixture but that didn't mean he could afford to be complacent. Rufus stopped in the middle of the cargo bay, not wanting to go further into the ship with the crazy girl dogging him step for step.
"You have plans for Captain Daddy."
The words were annoying but it wouldn't do for him to lose his temper with her before finding out what the good gorram she was talking about though he already suspected her of being a master in double talk, mayhap a few words of sense would tumble from her mouth. "Shouldn't speak about what you don't know."
"Wheels within wheels but you aren't the main cog."
Rufus stared at her. She couldn't possibly know.
"They're using you."
A slither of ice crept down his spine. More disturbed that he liked to admit even to himself. He tried to shake it off, his voice gruff but aiming for casual. "Everybody uses everybody."
The girl's voice dropped, her words quietly spoken and soft as someone creeping up on him in stockinged feet. "Even friends?"
"I'm gonna protect him so there's nothin' to be troublin' your head over, *dong ma*?"
Her voice became sad yet so light it could drift away on the slightest breeze. "But not the rest of us?"
"You really blood kin?"
Something in her eyes sparked. "Closer than. He's head of the family, Rufus. Who's your family?"
Anger bled into every line of him yet he remained outwardly calm, needing information from her rather than a confrontation. Seeing how calm River was helped him stay steady. "I would never hurt Mal. You have my word on it."
River's voice rose just a notch. "Then don't hurt his family."
Before Rufus could respond River was gone leaving the man staring off at the space where she had been standing. Inside there was a war going on and much as it pained him, he didn't know how it was going to end.
She hated this. Tired, wet and no doubt smelling of every foul thing imaginable Lucy Dengate could not afford to stop. The need to find an exit and get into the clean fresh air spurred her on through her exhaustion. Almost she forgot why she was hiding but then something would prod her mind and her will sharpened. If only there was somewhere dry to stand, a rock to sit on so she could rest, but there was nothing except the sewage dragging at her ankles as some unknown current tugged and drew it on its' sluggish journey. Stumbling despite her best efforts, Lucy paused and side stepped slowly, hands out as far as she could reach. It was so dim she could hardly see even though her eyes had adjusted as much as they could to the lack of light. It depressed and frightened her especially when something slithered passed her ankles, trying to cling to her as it passed. Lucy imagined a sucking mouth with hidden teeth and could not stop a shudder of revulsion going through her small body. With no food and no water she was in danger of dehydrating but in this foul place she did not think she would have been able to eat anything anyway.
At least down here she was *anquan*. Safe. Lucy wanted to laugh. What good was being safe if it meant dying deep beneath the streets of Osiris? Still she moved slowly, carefully edging to her left, hoping to find the side of the tunnel and possibly a way out. When at last she did touch the wall she recoiled and almost fell over in her haste to back away from it. Wet and slimey the wall was as foul as the water she was forced to wade through but something about it clicked in her mind. Forcing herself to try again, Lucy reached out tentatively until her fingers touched the wall again. She gagged but nothing came out, her throat too dry and her stomach empty. Carefully she moved her hand over the wall, touching it as lightly as she could until she realised it was solid. There was no opening but she did find out that it was not a straight wall, it curved from top to bottom. That meant she was not in a tunnel but a large pipe. It made sense but didn't cheer her up. A pipe meant she was trapped, only able to move forwards or back and she had already been down here for so long. Only one option held out even the faintest hope and that was to keep going.
Zoe wanted to go and relieve Shepherd Book but if Simon was going to operate on the Captain her place was here. Whether he asked or not she would remain to give what aid she could and in the absence of practical help her presence would no doubt give some comfort to her long time friend. Simon caught her eye and realised Serenity's imposing second in command was going nowhere. Neither, at the moment, was he going to be doing any surgery.
"I cannot operate without knowing more."
Her look was unflinching. Simon realised Zoe was waiting for him to make a start with or without the amount of information he wanted. River had said there wasn't much time, speaking of which where was his sister? Simon turned his head just as River returned and watched her go straight up to the Captain, her face angled like a flower tilted towards the light. Zoe frowned, was about to say something when she realised River was already speaking. Not to her but to the Captain. It was the words that chilled her.
"Don't be afraid. Simon will give you something for the pain. You have to let him burn it off, every last speck of dust sticking to your lungs and the back of your throat." His eyes widened in alarm but River kept eye contact, her voice softening. "You won't be alone. The worst part comes after."
"After?" He croaked.
Jayne shifted awkwardly in Zoe's peripheral vision but she had no intention of sending him out of the room. Once they knew what was happening and what if anything needed to be done to help she would make a decision. Not before. She watched River nod and smile at the Captain, her brother looking puzzled and uncomfortable on the other side of the infirmary bed. A look he had perfected over the years.
The Captain shifted his gaze to Simon. "How you gonna burn it off? An' how you gonna do it without settin' me on fire?"
It was almost comical but not. Simon wished his sister had come to him privately, told him what she had in mind so he could work something out but no, true to form, she had to throw him in the deep end and he had no idea what her reasoning was or how her solution was meant to be implemented. "I took an oath Captain, 'do no harm'."
Malcolm Reynolds raised his eyebrows. "You sayin' this notion of your sister's is gonna work?"
Before he could answer River explained. "There's a special laser which will melt and dissolve the solidified dust. You won't be burnt but afterwards your lungs will be tender and sore, as if scoured by the fires of *diyu*."
"You do know," said the Captain slowly as he looked her in the eye "that ain't very comfortin'."
Her smile was dazzling, like sunlight on water but magnified. Simon opened and closed his mouth until he could find the words he was seeking. "River, I don't have anything like that."
River didn't smile this time. "He has one though he won't want to admit it. Keeps it under lock and key."
Jayne, Zoe, Simon and the Captain all spoke at the same time. "*Shei*?"
They came boiling out of the ground like ants, their grey featureless uniforms giving no clue as to rank or insignia yet striking fear in every heart. Within seconds of the first appearing, the locals retreated and hid away in their homes. Not wanting to see or be seen. The soldiers flooded the dock area and with military precision removed all the bodies. Brody Walker had taken refuge in an abandoned stall. Flimsy as the structure was, it screened him from view while allowing him to cautiously watch their activities. He had lived on Anaeron for four long, hard years. The toil did not worry him, the necessity of the masks did not frighten him, but these nameless soldiers struck fear in his heart as nothing else could. He was surprised in a way that they had any interest in cleaning up after a Triad shoot out yet they were meticulous, removing each body in its' own watertight bag. What shocked him though was that they did not then depart but returned with an odd looking machine that sucked up the blood engorged dust which was solidifying in the open air. Every last speck touched by blood was removed leaving the dock area almost pristine behind them.
It was eerie. Other worldly and totally creepifying. Even after the soldiers and their equipment had gone, Brody did not make a move. He knew eyes would be watching, waiting, making sure their actions had been unobserved. If he were caught a fate far worse than death would await him. Years ago he had laughed at such an idea but four years was a long time and he knew better now. He had no explanation for their actions or why they should deem it so important to santise the area as if the event had never taken place. *Wode ma*, what in the shiny sphincter of *diyu* was going on?
Shen Willets liked Shepherd Book, he really did, but he was getting tired of being confined to the commons area under virtual house arrest. Oh, the Shepherd was very reassuring and kindly about it and he did understand the need for caution but as the hours rolled on by he had to bite back his impatience. Surely they had decided whether or not they could trust him by now? After all Book had removed his blindfold.
"When are you gonna let me go?"
"Are you so tired of our company, Mr Willets?"
"*Bu qu*, just Jerrod will be gettin' anxious not hearin' from me an' I did come willin'ly to help if I could."
"And we appreciate that."
Something in the Shepherd shifted but it was so subtle Willets was not sure whether he had imagined it. He resolved not to push too hard, no sense alienatiing the one person who had at least shown him courtesy and understanding but it was hard. "Mr Willets, you said you wanted to help?"
Willets nodded. "*Qu*."
The Shepherd gave a disarming smile. "Then be patient with us."
Put like that he had no other option but to agree.
Zoe stared at River. They all did. "Are you sayin' that Rufus has what we need?"
"Kept under lock and key."
The Captain actually looked relieved, couldn't see why the others looked somewhat apalled. Far as he could see the man hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, Polly would be the solution so why all the long faces? "Best I go speak to him. I'm sure once he knows the why of it he'll be eager to help."
Zoe felt that creeping feeling touch her with uncertainty again. What was it about Rufus that she could never quite trust and why was it her long time friend and Captain trusted the man so completely? Who was the blind one here, her or him? If Wash wasn't in the engine room helping Kaylee fit some scavenged second hand parts while they had the opportunity she knew what her *zhangfu* would say but steadfast loyalty was not the same as knowledge and Mal did know Rufus far better than she did. "What if he doesn't want to help, sir?"
Astonished, the Captain managed to duck Simon's hand and get to his feet, though he did steady himself for a moment. "Zoe, there is no way Polly wouldn't wanna help. I'll just have a word with him an' we can get this settled *mashang*."
His second in command clamped her mouth shut on any further objections. After all she had nothing to back it up and despite his reckless side Rufus had been a good man to have beside you in a fight. Jayne looked from one to the other, not sure what that was all about. He liked Rufus Pol, didn't mean he trusted him. But then Jayne didn't trust many people and those he did were very few and far between. It's what made him such a good gorram mercenary.
"I'll go, sir. Best you stay here an' rest."
The Captain glared at his second in command. "I ain't an invalid."
"Not yet." Murmured River.
Everyone stared at her. River Tam rolled her eyes as if the reason was obvious.
"Moving around doesn't help, you need to stay as still as possible."
"More exertion uses more energy, you need to save yours."
The Captain opened his mouth to argue but River turned away from him and looked at Zoe. "I'll go with you."
"River, that's not necessary."
"May not be *biyao de* but it will be more effective."
It was on the tip of Zoe's tongue to ask what she meant but something made her nod instead. River often knew things, things she should not be able to know. Maybe her misgivings about Rufus were shared by Simon's sister and if so she wanted to glean as much from the girl as possible. Preferably not in the Captain's hearing. He would not take kindly to her airing suspicions he would consider unfounded. Also she did not want to hurt him if she proved to be wrong. Her maxim for now was, 'what the Captain doesn't know can't hurt him'. But even in the santity of her own mind that reassurance sounded hollow.
So still he sat that a stone he might have been but he was not. Meditation was a tool not the answer and he used it with all the skill of a master, his thoughts reaching out to the faint whispers that cried out un-knowingly across the ether when he sought them out. Giving themselves away the moment they tried to hide from him. It was an irony he savoured. Delicious. Rare. A transitory pleasure. Enjoying the moment, he took his time choosing. Ever patient, he could afford to take his time.
Kaylee could feel him grinning at her, another happy sun to add to her joyous firmament. "So you an' Simon finally got together?"
Even under the engine her laughter had a way of bouncing around and gathering friends. Wash's face was a big shit eating grin, all pleasure no pain. She popped her head sideways out from under the G-line she had been replacing. "What're ya sayin' there, Wash?"
His grin was as infectious as her own. "Our bunk may not be exactly next door but some nights we can hear you..." Kaylee flushed just a little, not because she was embarrassed at him knowing she and Simon were busying sexing each other but because she didn't think they were that loud. He laughed at the expression on her face. "*Fang xin*, I know what it's like to get lost in the throes of passion Kaylee."
"So, you an' Zoe?"
It was kind of miraculous how Wash's face seemed to light up from the inside out just thinking about his beautiful but deadly wife. "Did I ever tell you how we met? What it's like to be with a warrior woman?"
Kaylee nodded but knew Wash was on a roll, lost in memories as precious to him as the air he breathed. She wondered if she and Simon would ever be like that. Well. Whether Simon would if she was truthful. Kaylee was already there, just glad Simon had finally unwound enough to admit he wanted her as much as she wanted him. It had been something of a revelation to her to find that she was the experienced one now and showing him just how many ways she could please his body had been all manner of gratifying, for both of them. With a jolt she realised Wash was speaking to her, and from the look on his face he had repeated himself a few times.
"Oh, *duibuqi* Wash."
Seeing her go pink then red he chuckled. Understanding she was lost in her own epiphany and not minding a bit. People in love just adored being around others in the same exalted state. "I was sayin', what does Simon think about havin' babies?"
Her fit of coughing would have alarmed him if he hadn't been expecting it. He watched her flushed face as she fought to control her reaction and get enough breath back in her gasping lungs. Seeing the twinkle in his eyes she gave him a mock glare. "Ya did that on purpose!"
Wash smiled, his eyes softening. "You didn't answer."
Now she felt a mite awkward. Getting her and Simon to the stage where they could actually be a proper couple, make love without him getting all startled and guilty about actually enjoying himself for a gorram minute or two had been a long road. Add bringing babies into the 'verse and he was like to have a fit. "I want 'em, Wash, but I don't wanna scare him off, *dong ma*?"
His look was gentle, understanding. Wash leaned close until their heads were almost touching. "If that man doesn't want your babies Kaylee then River's right." Her eyebrows shot into her hairline. Wash grinned cheekily. "He's a boob."
"Who's a boob?"
The two sprang apart like scalded cats, twin looks of guilt on their faces.
"Is that gonna happen to me?"
He gave her a look she couldn't read. Swallowing slowly, Kathleen pointed to the room full of tanks.
"They are the Befores" He explained. "You are an After."
Confused, she momentarily forgot to be afraid. "After? *Wo bu dong*."
"There is an old Earth-that-was saying 'Great Oaks from little acorns grow'." He paused, realising the words meant nothing to her. "We have been slowly growing, engineering what we need but it is not as precise as you might imagine. Cells can be manipulated, growth can be augmented, but the mind - the mind is far more delicate and conversely resilient to outside pressures than you might think."
He let her think about that, knowing it would mean more if she worked some things out for herself. A slow dawning horror dulled the light in her eyes. "You alter people's brains?"
The laugh was light, amused even but not in the least reassuring. The affectation of humour was, after all, more of the twisted than the funny kind. The Operative wondered how someone with such potential could be so slow on the uptake but then he kept forgetting. She was only a child. "The mind is a gift and one we prefer to nurture rather than waste."
A whole host of terrible possibilities began to crowd unbidden into her mind. Images that brought their own nightmares like afterbirth along with them. A messy and ultimately frightening experience being born whether real or imagined. "You're gonna cut out my brain?"
"Crude and entirely inaccurate. Destroying the vessel ruins the contents."
He was speaking in gorram riddles and she was so tired, the fear that had been her constant now a thrumming dull ache in her head. Trapped as she was, Kathleen wanted desperately to find a way out. If she could do so with her head intact that would be a bonus. Eyes filling with unshed tears, she looked up at this cultured monster and wailed. "I wanna go home!"
Before she could step out of his reach, the Operative placed his hands either side of her face, holding her gently but firmly so that she had to look at him. "This IS your home, *dong ma*?"
The building tears spilled down her cheeks. He watched them for a second in mute fascination then took his hands away. As she hurriedly stepped back she came up against something solid. Turning, she was alarmed to see a man in a crisp white coat standing behind her. The Operative just gave the man a small nod. Kathleen opened her mouth to speak but was startled by a brief but sharp prick to the back of her neck. Confused she tried to turn but already her world was dissolving around her, everything becoming a blur. As her body crumpled unfamiliar hands caught her and carried the now unconscious girl into a sterile room. At first glance it looked like a traditional operating theatre except the instruments were strange and there were more computers and technical equipment than surgical instruments. Carefully she was sat in a chair in a semi recumbent position, straps fastened around her arms, chest and legs to keep her immobile. When the metal circlet was fitted around her forehead, a wire linked it to a sophisticated monitoring device. Other wires were attached with the rapid efficiency of a much repeated routine. Her head now secure as well as the rest of her body they could begin.
The Operative joined the technician, a sterile set of scrubs obscuring his features as he watched the technician ready the syringe. Then slowly, and with infinite care, the needle was inserted into a small hole in the middle of the circlet of steel around her forehead then impaled deep into the unconscious girl's pineal gland. The sudden painful intrusion partly shocked the girl out of her unconscious state and she jerked, eyes springing open, wide with fear and an agony that creeped and crawled its' way through her brain sending ancillary shocks through her system. Again she jerked, fear mounting, horror on horror building as thoughts that were not her own slid like traitors through her defences. She wanted to fight back, to deny them entry but didn't know how. Nothing had ever touched her like this or threatened a part of her she thought totally inviolate. At she opened her mouth to scream the technician attached a thin long tube to the end of the plunger on the syringe then turned to an aparatus beside him and slowly turned a little lever at the top of the tube where a bag of clear liquid hung from a drip stand. The liquid flowed down the tube until it reached the syringe. The technician glanced at the Operative. At his nod he depressed the plunger slowly and watched at the girl's eyes widened still further then slowly lost coherence, the spark of consiciousness a muddled and fading echo, no longer as clear as a memory. The eyes closed. The technician reached for some steri strips and taped them open. Even unconscious, there was to be nowhere for the girl to hide.
Rufus Pol would have ranted and railed at them for their audacity but Mal was with them and no matter how mad he felt at Serenity's crew he could not hold it against his friend. Man had been more than a brother in arms to him, understood him on a fundamental level that by-passed the need for endless talk and explanation. They just 'knew' each other's minds in a way that was both comforting and a relief. Mal had accepted Rufus from Day One, never once expected anything other than total loyalty and he had been glad to fulfill that expectation. In return he was part of Malcolm Reynolds' little cadre of close knit friends and comrades. Valued and respected in a way he had never been with anyone else either before or since. It had created a bond, one only death would be able to sever but his crew? Well now, he hadn't bonded with them. Not even Zoe though he had hoped she would be equally accepting but something always stood between them and over time he realised she would never really take to him. It was a wary stalemate. Not enemies but not quite friends either. Now, meeting up with them again, it had been a surprise to find her married to the kind of man he would have considered a clown and a buffoon, someone not to be taken seriously. That Mal accepted her choice natural as can be had been something of a wake up call for Rufus and the more he was around Wash, the more he began to understand what drew her to him and to realise that there was more to the affable man than a ready smile and corny jokes. By all accounts he was a hot shot pilot and as loyal in his way as his wife. No. Underestimating any member of Mal's crew would be a mistake.
"He understands but doesn't yet comprehend."
He blinked at the girl. As disturbing now as the last time she had spoken to him only this time he had an inkling what she was getting at. The Captain gave him a smile, ignoring the rag tag members of his crew trailing along behind him. "Polly, River thinks you can help me."
That surprised him so much he took a moment before speaking. "I'll always help ya, Mal, you know that."
The Captain nodded and tried to clear his throat but it was kind of clogging again. Knowing what that meant sped up his heart rate a mite but he was determined to press on and not show any sign of panic. "Got some of that gorram *goushi* in my lungs, dong ma*?"
Rufus frowned, not liking the sound of that. "Thought ya coughed it up?"
Zoe's look was as unreadable as a slab of granite. "Some not all."
"Not sure what you're wantin' me to do, Mal."
Now it came to it, the Captain felt a mite awkward. Not so River Tam, she just came right out with it. "You have the key and the solution."
Baffled he stared from face to face. "I do?"
"All locked up for emergencies only you don't share."
Something dark slid behind his eyes but he tried to keep his look friendly. "Best you ask what it is you're wantin'. Ain't much for cryptic clues."
"It's a kind of laser as far as we can gather." Zoe explained. That shook him and good. No one else even knew he had the tech so how in the 'verse did River know? Had she been sneaking around his ship? But no, that was not possible. Was it? The Captain waved the others aside and moved next to Rufus. Come to think on it his old friend didn't look so good.
"Polly, doc says some of the dust got through to the lungs an' the back of my throat. Solidified an' unless it gets removed I ain't gonna be too shiny. Needs dissolvin', *dong ma*? If you got somethin' can do the job I'd be obliged if I could borrow it."
It took but a second for him to make his decision. "I got a laser drill, Mal, it's got all manner of fancy attachments an' such - some I ain't never used still less know the use of - but I ain't never heard of it bein' used for anythin' but minin'."
Mal clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Yeah, well, way this dust sets it ain't gonna be much different except it'll be a whole lot more painful but it's the best chance I got."
Now Rufus was worried. He peered hard at Malcolm Reynolds. "You really that bad, *wode pengyou*?"
He got a short nod. The Captain tried to clear his throat but went into a coughing fit, stepping back from Rufus he bent double to try to get enough air in his lungs. Zoe quickly stepped up to his side but didn't touch him, her eyes narrowing and unable to hide her concern. She gave Rufus an urgent look, "If you're gonna help Rufus we need that laser sooner rather than later."
All his reservations fled at the possibility something bad might happen to his friend if he delayed. With a nod he became all business. "*Dang ran*, it's a mite heavy though. Lots of bits an' pieces to it an' I don't know which you'll be needin'."
Jayne Cobb paused to glance at the Captain who by now was red faced and fighting for breath but still on his feet. Zoe jerked her head towards Rufus. "Go help Rufus, Jayne. We'll get the Cap'n back to the infirmary."
The two men turned and hurried down the metal staircase and all but ran across the cargo bay and out of the door. As soon as they were through the cargo bay door and in the belly of the huge terraforming ship Jayne urged Rufus to speed up, River's words about not having much time echoing round and round inside his brainpan like a gorram death knell. Rufus Pol didn't need to be told twice.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*nu haizi* = girl *shenjingbing* = crazy *dong ma* = understand? *anquan* = safe
*diyu* = hell *shei* = who? *wode ma* = mother of God *bu qu* = no (lit. no go)
*qu* = yes (lit. go) *zhangfu* = husband *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately
*weishenme* = why? *biyao de* = necessary *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)
*duibuqi* = sorry *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *goushi* = crap/dog shit
*wode pengyou* = my friend *dang ran* = of course
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